Monday, November 12, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - October

As I near the end of this most wonderful book, I find myself hoping so much that Susan Hill will write another and another and another like this and Howards End is on the Landing. They are as food and drink to me. My mind and heart are expanded with every chapter. I am in the presence of a real scholar, though she says of herself, "I am not scholarly material."

I feel like October is a pensive month, especially the second half. The days get shorter, daytime itself gets darker, and often the rain or snow prevents outside activities. This makes me happy, as I've noted probably too many times before in the almost twelve years of Letters from a Hill Farm. I am an introvert (not shy), I like sitting and reading, I like time to be quiet and think. So October and November suit me perfectly. The October chapter is 31 pages of many deep thoughts, and I was in reading heaven.

Susan Hill writes about Rievaulx Abbey.



If you arrive late and out of season, when the sun is going down, you really can get some sense of what life was like in this bowl of the Yorkshire Dales, where sheep bleat through the soft air and the light gleams through the majestic ruins, archways, slit windows, whole 'rooms' and magnificent spaces.
And
I am glad there is so much left of Rievaulx. When you stand alone there, even though the sky and not a roof is over your head, you can hear the whispers of monastic chant and the faint ghostly swish of the heavy robes, see the shadowy procession of hooded figures on their way to and from the chapel. And there is nothing remotely spooky about it. 
The author goes on to talk about Aelred of Rievaulx.
I came to love Aelred because I came to know him. So much of that time is very distant and different, yet there is enough left of Aelred's writings, we know so much of his life and personality, that he can come closer to us than many who have lived later. ... Aelred was a great and good man.
And how did she come to learn about him? Well,
A decade ago I did what I had longed to do since 1963, when I received my first degree, and started to read for another, an MA this time in theology. Having been brought up in a Catholic convent, and spent many years as an adult Anglican,  ... I felt - and indeed, still feel - that I knew too little about the basis of and background to it all and about various aspects of Christian history. But I wasn't about to return as a full-time student to what is now called the campus, I studied by distance learning. If you have already taken a first degree, and especially if you are older and doing this voluntarily, and so anxious to learn and put the hours in, this is an ideal way. The internet has made it all possible. My essays were e-mailed in and marked and returned by the same route, but nice, fat, printed books of the modules came by post.
I loved the course from Day 1. I immersed myself in it as in a warm bath.
So, you see what I mean about her being a scholar!

Suddenly, she stops and writes this beautiful sentence.
A long skein of pink-footed geese has just gone over towards the marshes.
She offers a wonderful granddaughter story.
Lila was only two and visiting once when the owl man appeared to do his ringing. He brought a white cotton drawstring bag, and came right to the house, by the back door, so that we could all watch. My grand-daughter stared in amazement, her eyes really like saucers, as he drew out the young owl from the bag, inspected it, let it open its wings to their full extent - which even on a baby owl is pretty wide - and then ringed it without any fuss, folded its wings gently together and slipped it back in the cotton bag. Two and a half years later and she still remembers.
Susan goes on to write about her granddaughter and books.
It is a joy that she is now having read to her some of the stories we read to her mother, and often from the very same copies. The most recent favorite is Tales of Polly and the Hungry Wolf by Catherine Storr, which was loved by us all thirty-five years ago. Lila's father does a very impressive wolf's voice. And so the same stories are re-born over and again. The Elephant and the Bad Baby, Stanley & Rhoda, Each Peach Pear Plum, Burglar Bill, Mog the Forgetful Cat, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and so on, to My Naughty Little Sister, that everlasting favourite, and now, to my delight, The Magic Faraway Tree.
As you might guess, I loved this so much! We have passed along quite a few of Margaret and Michael's books to them so they can read them to their little ones. We've read a bit to Hazel over the years, though not too much because often with children, much of the reading happens at bedtime. We're looking forward to Hazel, Campbell, and Indy staying overnight when they get older. In fact, right now we are working on the HCI room! Tom has finished the painting. We'll go about it gradually, buying beds, etc.

I think I've mentioned that when we brought the kids to England, Ireland, and Wales in 1992, we bought tapes over there to listen to in the car. The very most favorite was The Magic Faraway Tree. My kids still do perfect imitations of the narrator saying, "Saucepan". We also own two of the stories Susan Hill mentioned - Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea.



They are in this collection


which was given to me by my long-time blogging friend, Val, last year. Of all the books we have, this is the one Hazel asks for the most.

This month's The Oldie magazine has an article on Judith Kerr.


She is 95, and still takes walks and has written a new book! In this country I think she is best known for When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. It was in Tom's classroom library when he taught 7th and 8th grades.

There is much, much more in the October chapter about authors and prizes and writing and even eels (yuck, me says).

28 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed Jacob's Room. I have been re-reading that recently. I wonder if you have read Francis Spufford's The Child that Books Built. Also I must happily report that I have finally got my hands on a copy of the Book of Stillmeadow. It came all the way from Pennsylvania and I am eking it out.

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    1. I have the Spufford book but haven't read it... yet. I am absolutely delighted that you got the book. Isn't it wonderful the way we can get old books now. It makes me so happy that you wanted to read her. Thanks for telling me, Lucille.

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    2. Stillmeadow is completely delightful. I must find another one of her books. Are some of the titles reuse of old material or would they all be stand alones? I'm glad you have found The Magic Apple Tree. It is never far from my pile.

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    3. I believe they are all different collections, mostly of columns she wrote in magazines. Sometimes the material seems a bit familiar, but that is most likely because she is writing about seasonal things, and perhaps, say, the browns of November are striking each year. I am quite sure I have repeated myself here in my letters over the past almost 11 years! Here is a really nice starting place for learning about Gladys. Also here: https://www.friendsofgladystaber.org/ I belong to it. I am happy to read of your love for The Magic Apple Tree!!

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    4. Thank you. I will squirrel about on Abebooks.

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    5. I realize that I didn't send you the first link. https://www.susanbranch.com/gladys-taber-fan-club/

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  2. I thought I knew quite a bit about children's books but did not recognize any of those. (Sad face.) We used to love having our grandchildren spend the night (and it still boggles my mind that this was decades ago... now it is Cyndi and Jeff's turn to host their grands (and they love it!). We are the GGs and they are too young for us, but happy memories.

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    1. Why are they too young for you?! I bet they would love, love, love staying with you. Our little ones adore their great-grandmother. And you know what, you could buy the books and enjoy them yourselves!!

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  3. Ah, The Magic Faraway Tree was one of my childhood favorites (as I've probably already told you at least a couple of times)! How fun that you listened to these on audio with your kiddos. And I am so happy that you and Tom are creating a space for HCI to spend the night with you two. Oh, what fun you will have in the mornings when they first wake up. We have so loved having Shaylyn spend several weeks with us every summer, both when she was a young girl and now as a teenager (soon to be in college!). The joy grandchildren bring is immeasurable.

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  4. So far, I've not yet made it to Rievaulx Abbey, but from the pictures it does not look too different from Byland, Fountains and even Whitby Abbey; therefore, I can relate quite well to what Susan Hill writes about Rievaulx.
    Judith Kerr's Pink Rabbit was a firm favourite of mine during my childhood and well into my early teens. I loved the book, and I loved the film that was made on it. I do not own a copy, but it was one of the books I took home from the school's library (where my Mum worked until her retirement) many times over.

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  5. Judith Kerr is such a wonderful person. There was a documentary about her on television in which she *ran* up the stairs, aged ninety! Rather movingly, she returned to Germany and visited her old home.
    My daughter just loved her books when she was young and has kept them all. When she went to 'an evening with Judith Kerr' (I think she was interviewed by Penelope Lively?), The author very kindly signed Alice's old books and complimented her on how nicely she'd kept them!

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    1. That is the dearest story! She sure seems wonderful. The Oldie article is very good.

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    1. Apparently they are a delicacy. They scare me!

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  7. Many years ago when I worked in a bookstore, I had a serious children's book habit -- and that was when I was in my 20s! Your lovely mini-tour makes me want to read these. Clearly the author is a lover of cats, large and small.

    Yes for October and November being good months for pursuits indoors. I haven't accomplished much so far, because it gets dark so early and I'm sleepy at 8:00 p.m.!

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    1. I so love children's books! It sure does get dark early!

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  8. That snow picture at the top! And when I read the line about the pink footed geese going overhead I thought about yours that you saw recently--it was you, wasn't it?

    I stopped in the middle of reading this post to locate my Jacob's Room copy because it got covered up recently when my writing room turned into a guest room, as it does every time my little granddaughters come to visit for the weekend with their parents. I opened the book and sure enough, I had only been halfway through October. Putting it back on my bed table where I can catch up and then get to November before this month passes too.

    One of the joys of grandparenting is passing your children's books on to their children! I must confess that sometimes I miss certain of those books once they're gone. With me, every Christmas I miss Peter Spier's Christmas, a book with no words but one that Daniel used to "read" to me every Christmas. I even went so far as to try to buy myself another one but they're rare and super expensive now. But I love imagining Daniel's two little girls "reading" it to him now.

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    1. I don't know the Spier book. I'll look out for it. And yes, there are some of my children's books that stay here. The grandchildren like to know their parents used to read them. Your weekends with your kids and their kids must be so wonderful!

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  9. This is lovely, Nan. The portions about the Abbey, the long-distance learning, the children's books and grandkid stories. Our daughter used to love spending time at both of her grandparents' houses. Her paternal grandparents lived in another town until she was about 8 or so. She would spend her school spring breaks at their house. She spent probably more time with my folks, but it shorter batches. They were just across town and she had special things she did with each of her grandparents. My Mom would watch any movie with her over and over and over. My husband's Mom took her shopping and she loved that. I'm not much of a shopper. Ha! Oh, and that paternal grandmother also taught her to bake and she still uses those lessons.

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    1. Lucky, lucky girl! I love it that she did different things with different grandparents. Such fond memories she has. Thanks for telling me all this. I loved reading it.

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  10. Wow, your new header photo is wonderful! Is that taken this year? Surely not...

    My two daughters absolutely adored Mog. Me too to be honest.

    And like you I'm really hoping that Susan Hill keeps right on writing these wonderful books about books... and other little snippets. I've grabbed book 2 of her SS crime series so hopefully I can get back into those.

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    1. Today, Cath!!! I love Mog, too. And I love the goose one - where he wants a friend and sees his reflection in the car door. I am just about to write a blog post on my upcoming reading scheme - again with Susan Hill and Gladys Taber!

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  11. Nan, this is such a delightful and feel-good post, especially with all the negative and depressing news going around. "I like sitting and reading, I like time to be quiet and think." I'd love to do that, too. I have not read Susan Hill's "Jacob's Room is Full of Books" but I know it's one I will enjoy when I do.

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    1. Prashant, I have made a conscious decision to not listen to news. I quit Facebook, too. I have done this before in my life, and I am a happier person if I don't have to hear about every single bad thing in the world. I think you will like the book.

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    2. I hope it's okay to reply to Prashant's comment and your reply to her, but your first sentence caught my eye as I scrolled down. Nan, reading that you no longer listen to news has been a wakeup call to me. I'm not a news show lover, it takes too much out of me emotionally and probably physically too. But I find myself listening to it when my husband has it on--hours at a time. I tell him it's his lullaby at night. And I feel myself getting frantic but almost feeling obligated to watch coverage of the catastrophes that happen. Once again I really must make a decision to go to another room and shut the door. I think that I too would be a happier person.

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    3. Of course, it is! How I love comments, and I truly have the best readers in the blogging world! Prashant is a man, by the way. His blogs are here: http://chesscomicsandcrosswords.blogspot.com/
      and here: http://controlaltlive.blogspot.com/
      "getting frantic" -so well put. I don't think we as human beings can possibly process so many catastrophes. If our hearts are broken several times a day, how long can they keep beating. Some people can filter. Not me. If I hear of something upsetting, it stays in my consciousness. "hours at a time" - that would surely kill me. Tom reads news. He says that way if he reads something too bad, he can just quit, whereas the radio is too much in his face with stories. That's how he deals. I grew up in a political house with a father mad at the opposition all the time. I can't take that kind of anger. What good did it do him? He died at 61.

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